Most Writers Who Aren’t Succeeding Are Focusing On the Wrong Things

Don’t be fooled by sneaky distractions.

There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like you’ve been working as hard as you ever have before but still aren’t getting the results you want.

Sometimes this is simply a normal part of a creator’s journey. We generally spend a lot of time working very hard for little to no reward. Sometimes it eventually pays off, but those years spent hustling alone are long and often feel like they’re never going to end.

But other times, it turns out we aren’t actually working as hard as we think we are.

Let me ask you this: How much time do you currently spend on social media “promoting your personal brand”? How much time do you spend in writing forums, making friends with other writers, and seeking out writing advice from people you trust and/or admire?

Now how much time in any given day do you actually spend writing?

The problem with a lot of writing advice in books and online is that it offers you the whole picture, telling you EVERYTHING you need to do in order to succeed in writing. This can be beneficial. But it can also be extremely distracting and impactful in a not so good way.

Even though being present on social media and connecting with other writers can be beneficial, I see it proving more harmful than helpful for writers who dream of publishing a book but struggle to write one. And “showing up” online isn’t even the only problem.

We’re convinced — thanks to marketing, both from companies and “expert” writers — that we have to have the best writing tools and gadgets. The best software. We have to enroll in the best courses, purchase tickets to all the major writing conventions.

As long as we have the fancy tech and we’re getting our name out there, we’re good. The more we talk about writing and share our ideas — and the better and more professional we look while doing it — the more likely someone is going to notice and pay attention to us. Right?

In some ways, advice like this isn’t necessarily “bad.” But it’s either misguided or it’s reaching the wrong audience. Brand new writers see advertisements and advice about how to impress and query agents before they’ve even started writing a book, and they’re so distracted by the excitement of the next step that they forget there’s still a very important step — many, actually — they haven’t taken yet.

Do you need to know everything there is to know about getting a book published as an author before you make the attempt? Of course. But too many hopeful creatives get ahead of themselves simply because they’re steered in the wrong direction and don’t realize their focus is in the wrong place.

There’s a very simple solution to this problem, of course. If you’re so preoccupied with what happens after you finish writing a book, for example, but haven’t written one yet, you pretty much just have to put everything on hold except, you know … writing the book.

When it comes down to it, the most important thing a writer can do to “compete” for success is to sit down and write. A lot. As often as possible.

While you can’t spend every moment of every day writing — and you really shouldn’t — I can pretty much guarantee most aspiring writers could afford to put a lot more time into actually creating things than they currently are.

Pursuing a writing career probably involves about 90% effort toward actually writing and 10% effort toward things like communicating with other writers online.

Think about it. How much effort are you actually putting toward physically writing — as in, sitting down in front of your computer typing words?

Thinking about writing and talking about writing are great. But there’s a third piece of the pie, and it’s the biggest one, and chances are you’re probably not paying as much attention to it as you should be.

I know finding balance is hard. I’ve been writing seriously and consistently for over 10 years and I still struggle with this, and probably always will. Over time you have to figure out how to fit writing into your life on top of all your other obligations and responsibilities. And even when you have the perfect plan in place, things don’t always work out the way you want them to.

But you have to try. You have to put in the effort even when you aren’t sure what the results might be. Asking questions, experimenting with different strategies and processes, and documenting your progress is an excellent way to help you stay motivated and productive … as long as underneath it all you’re not letting all of this distract you from actively creating.

We don’t even realize that the majority of distractions keeping us from achieving our goals are actually distractions. We THINK they’re helping us inch closer to the finish line, but they’re actually sending us on endless detours, always coming back to the right path but never making it very far forward.

What you focus on right now depends on your goals and where you are in the process. If you’ve written a book and you want to start looking for beta readers, your focus might be on making social connections. If you’re like me and are still in the middle of writing your first draft, making social connections isn’t going to help you finish that draft. You should focus on finishing that draft. (FINISH THAT DRAFT, SELF … FINISH. IT.)

Sorry I can’t give you more specific, individualized guidance to help you figure out what to focus on. If you’re honest with yourself, the answer will hopefully present itself to you. I’m just offering general advice here, because this is a blog and my advice is free and I don’t know you.

It’s OK to tweet about writing. It’s OK to hang out with other writers and gripe about writing struggles and fantasize about where you see yourself in 10 years. BUT YOU STILL HAVE TO WRITE. Writing doesn’t become any less important just because you’re distracted by something else.

So the next time you ask yourself, “Why haven’t I accomplished anything as a writer lately?” Look at how you’ve been spending your time. If you haven’t been writing, well, that seems like a good place to start.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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3 thoughts on “Most Writers Who Aren’t Succeeding Are Focusing On the Wrong Things

  1. Yes, to all this. I’m always flummoxed with new writers’ interest in writing software. All it takes is an open Word document or a blank page–but then, I think that’s frightening, to all of us!

  2. Thank you Meg for your insights. For a new writer such as myself, I must be working at my craft on a daily basis. You are absolutely correct about not getting ahead of ourselves with areas of book publishing and social media promotion. I am certain that the Hemingway’s and the Steinbeck’s were busy working at their craft. Fortunately for them, they were some of the few novelists to make it to the top.

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